What I’ve been reading lately – books about librarians and trouble

It’s true. I mean, I’ve been pretty much on hiatus for two months (I started writing this post on Sept. 5), so you can safely assume that I’ve been reading lots of books about lots of things, but isn’t it more interesting to focus on just the books about librarians and trouble? (And isn’t it interesting that there has been more than one such book published in the last few months?)

I like to believe that there’s a collective consciousness that binds all creation (read into that statement what you will). A number of years ago, I read Paolo Coelho’s By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, my introduction to this concept. Pardon the paraphrase — my memory is not fantastic, and it’s been about a decade since my last read. In Piedra, one of the characters talks about simultaneous leaps that occur in human and animal populations (I’m fairly certain the book mentions monkey populations — possibly on different islands of Papua New Guinea (or some other place with islands) — that spontaneously and simultaneously began a new practice of washing bananas and that those populations did not have any contact with each other to share the idea). I like to believe that this collective consciousness is the reason that Deep Impact and Armageddon were developed and released within months of each other (and also Volcano and Dante’s Peak.)

And, now, it’s brought us two books about librarians who are involved in some kind of trouble. It seems reasonable to me to discuss these books in the order of their release, so first up is Victoria Dahl’s Looking for Trouble.

A good reason to be bad…

Librarian Sophie Heyer has walked the straight and narrow her entire life to avoid paying for her mother’s mistakes. But in tiny Jackson Hole, Wyoming, juicy gossip just doesn’t go away, so the last thing she needs is for history to repeat itself. Falling hard for the sexiest biker who’s ever rode into town would undo everything she’s worked for. And to add insult to injury, the sexy stranger is none other than Alex Bishop–the son of the man her mother abandoned Sophie’s family for. He may be temptation on wheels, but Sophie’s not looking for trouble!

Maybe Sophie’s buttoned-up facade fools some, but Alex knows a naughty smile when he sees one. Despite their parents’ checkered pasts, he’s willing to take some risks to find out the truth about the town librarian. He figures a little fling might be just the ticket to get his mind off of family drama. But what he finds underneath Sophie’s prim demeanor might change his world in ways he never expected.

This book brings together secondary characters from two of Dahl’s previous books, Alex, the missing brother who is mentioned but does not appear in Too Hot to Handleand Sophie, the sassy and awesome friend in Fanning the Flames. I loved so many things about Looking for Trouble, and I’m just going to throw them in a list:

  1. Sophie has such a wonderful blend of vulnerability and strength. She is confident in her sexuality, despite the complications of her back story, yet she is (understandably) cautious and reserved in sharing her sexuality with anyone who might know the story of her past. This reserve causes some dissonance between her outward appearance and her inner life, and Dahl does amazing things with it. Sophie owns her sensuality — she wears beautiful lingerie because she loves it, because it makes her feel sexy, not because some dude is going to see it — and she shares it, a gift, when she wants. I loved how sex-positive the narrative is, that Sophie accepts and delights in her own sexuality even as she keeps it hidden from her neighbors, that she recognizes that the problem is not that she possesses any sexuality but rather that those who know the story of her family can’t seem to resist judging her and finding her amoral.
  2. One of my favorite things about Dahl’s writing is that I can always count on her to give her heroines awesome lady friends. There is a tendency in romance fiction, probably for no nefarious reason and just in the interest of tight plotting, to isolate heroines — and sometimes heroes, too — and focus exclusively on the central love story. (Tangent: the result is that if heroines are shown to have friends, their conversation revolves exclusively around the love interest. It bothers me when I read books wherein the heroes have a group of friends who discuss all kinds of things — business interests, perhaps, or recreational plans — but the heroines are either completely isolated or only shown talking to their girlfriend(s) about the hot guy./tangent) Looking for Trouble (and the super awesome novella that sets it up, Fanning the Flames, which has a librarian heroine and a firefighter hero, you guys) is a spin-off on Dahl’s Jackson [Hole] series and focuses on a group of lady friends and their romantic hijinks. These lady friends have a regular girls’ night out, so they can catch up with each other, talk about work and family frustrations, tell stories, support each other, and make questionable decisions due to alcohol consumption.
  3. Dahl writes some of the dirtiest love scenes you can find outside of erotica/erotic romance. (I’m comfortable with all levels of heat in books, from smoldering glances to surprise AP (and beyond), but I prefer when the heat level reflects the characters and fits within the rest of the book. There’s nothing more jarring than reading a sweet, small-town romance that suddenly feels as though it took a sharp left to Pornville.) The love scenes in Looking for Trouble are intense because the characters are, because their motivations and desires are complicated and go way beyond hand holding and gentle embraces. I know the lines between genre romance and erotic romance are sort of blurry, but I think one could make an argument that this book is borderline erom because the sex scenes are crucial to the story and one of the key ways the characters relate to and discover each other.
  4. There’s also some great discussion about shaming within communities.

But my favorite thing about the book is the way it handles compromise. This is one of those stories where the characters seem to be on divergent paths. Alex seems pretty much like this guy (except, you know, in a good way.)

And Sophie seems tied to her community, unwilling or unable to consider leaving it. For a while, I wasn’t sure how things could work out for these two, and that made it all the sweeter when they decided to work together, to be partners in finding a solution to their geography problem. Characters working together as partners? What a novel concept.

About a month after I read Dahl’s book, I picked up Lauren Dane’s The Best Kind of Trouble. I follow Dane on Twitter, and I’ve been curious about her books for a while (but I thought she was a PNR/UF author, and I don’t read much of that. Turns out I was wrong, anyway, and she’s a versatile author of all the things.) I mostly liked this book and am planning on reading the next book in the series (out later this month). Plenty of other folks have absolutely loved this book, but there were a few things about it that kind of annoyed me. It’s possible that it just ran into some of my pet peeves. Whatever. Overall, I liked it.

She has complete control… and he’s determined to take it away

A librarian in the small town of Hood River, Natalie Clayton’s world is very nearly perfect. After a turbulent childhood and her once-wild ways, life is now under control. But trouble has a way of turning up unexpectedly—especially in the tall, charismatically sexy form of Paddy Hurley….

And Paddy is the kind of trouble that Natalie has a taste for.

Even after years of the rock and roll lifestyle, Paddy never forgot the two wickedly hot weeks he once shared with Natalie. Now he wants more… even if it means tempting Natalie and her iron-grip control. But there’s a fine line between well-behaved and misbehaved—and the only compromise is between the sheets!

The Best Kind of Trouble has wonderful secondary characters (I absolutely loved Paddy’s family, and Natalie’s group of friends reminded me of the friends other people seemed to make in college. <– I made all my friends in junior high and made a whopping 2 friends in college because… wait for it… I spent all my time with my nose in a book — or headphones on my ears.) that, to me, really made the book. I had a few issues with the romance between Natalie and Paddy, but I still managed to enjoy the reading experience because there were so many fantastic characters (building so much promise for future books in the series).

This book reminded me a little bit of a Harlequin Superromance (to be clear: that’s my favorite kind of category romance. I love those books; they are my reading catnip.). Dane builds a world around this group of brother musicians, their extended families, and their home town, and she weaves in the heroine (who has settled down in that town after a tumultuous past) and her friends. When they’re not recording new music or going on tour, the brothers are working the family ranch (to earn their rugged physiques, perhaps), so they’re kind of a lethal combo: rock stars and cowboys.

I really liked Natalie. She’s fought for the life she loves. Her family sucks, so she formed a friend family and relies on them for support. She’s got issues, but she’s remarkably well-adjusted. She’s a grown up, and she’s someone I’d want to hang out with. (And I related to her coffee and sweets fixation.) I liked Paddy before he and Natalie got together; he’s charming, funny, a little bit intense, and I loved that he pursued Natalie without being creepy about it, respecting her boundaries even while pushing his suit.

To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed just about every aspect of The Best Kind of Trouble except Paddy and Natalie’s relationship. And I’m a little surprised that I didn’t like it. I mentioned that I go nuts for Superromance titles… one of the things I like about those books is that they show relationships set within the context of life — all the messy work and family issues that can make it hard for a relationship to thrive. This book shows exactly that sort of thing — Paddy and Natalie struggling to make it work, to work past their issues, to find time for each other in their busy (and full) adult lives — and I should have gone absolutely apeshit for it. But I didn’t. For me, it all came down to Paddy: I just didn’t think he was a good boyfriend. He’s fantastic in the sack, sure, but every time an issue or misunderstanding comes up, Paddy responds with this line, “This is my first real relationship, you know, and I’m doing the best I can!” And that got kind of old to me. Paddy does a whole bunch of unbelievably stupid and/or hurtful things, and all he can say is that he’s new at this whole relationship thing, so we shouldn’t judge him? It makes him seem so childish and whiny, which is ridiculous! I can’t remember how old he actually is, but I’ll tell you what — it’s old enough to behave like a fucking adult.

By the time the end rolled around, I was just done with him, and I’m not sure that any amount of groveling would have won me over. I wanted Natalie to end up with someone who wasn’t (or — to be more fair — didn’t act like) a self-obsessed asshole. I wanted to believe in the happily ever after, but…

Maybe I’m being too hard on Paddy. Maybe this is just my issue. I know a lot of readers who have a hard time with difficult heroines, and maybe I’m just a reader who has a hard time with difficult heroes. (tangent: I do tend to have an expectation of lots and lots of groveling — not just showing up in a limo with a cheap bouquet of flowers — whenever the hero’s douchebaggery has been the cause of conflict in a book, and I tend to be incredibly disappointed when the dude just rides in with his limo and flowers as though just showing up, just publicly (if lamely) professing his love for the heroine, or even just professing “Hey, I’m here!” or “I’m back!” is enough. It’s not enough./tangent)

Let’s talk! Have you ever read a book that, by all rights, you should have loved (but didn’t)? Do you have a reading bias? Have you read any other books about librarians and trouble? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter! I love to talk about books.

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of these books courtesy of Harlequin via NetGalley for review consideration.*

My best and worst reads in 2013

I read a lot of books this year (172 as of my writing this), and I thought it might be fun to identify the outliers at both ends of the spectrum.

The Best:

1.  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – There is so much life in this novella, complete with joy and pain, disappointment and transcendence. It is, without doubt, the best book I read all year. (*)

2.  Big Boy by Ruthie Knox – Hands down my favorite Ruthie Knox book (which is really saying something, guys), Big Boy is remarkably atypical for the genre.  It features characters whose sole, necessary, act of selfishness in lives governed by sacrifice is the small amount of time they take from each other.  And when they shift to giving instead of taking? It’s magic. (<3)

3.  Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand – Infertility, grief, and a broken marriage, these are the subjects of this beautifully moving novella that explores the jagged edges of two people, long in love, who were blown apart by grief but who find a way back.   (<3)

4.  A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant – I don’t know that I have ever been more surprised by a romance novel than I was by Cecilia Grant’s debut.  Thematically, the novel discusses trust, intimacy, and the slow development of love with humor so sly it’s easy to miss.  But it’s most remarkable (I think) for its complete lack of instalust and magical chemistry.  If you haven’t read this book, you really should. (<3)

5.  About Last Night by Ruthie Knox – I read this book in one sitting and, when I was done, I started it again immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go. Through this book, Knox taught me how to be a better reader (and, by extension, a better woman, perhaps), to sit and savor the moments of truth that can be found in a book, to rediscover and embrace the reason I read.  (<3)

6 and 7.  The Heiress Effect and The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan – My favorite thing about Courtney MIlan’s writing is that when you start reading her books, her characters always seem so damn mysterious, and that mystery never seems like a clever device to snag reader interest.  It’s just that her characters are so full, possess such depth, that it takes a few hundred pages to get to know them.  And then you do, and your heart just breaks, because their issues are real.  You’ve met women like Jane, and you know your history — and your current affairs — so you know her plight (and her sister’s) is not unusual.  You know that all the pieces of Violet’s character really existed, lived out by real women throughout the ages.  And it hurts so much to know it, so deeply, so viscerally, a punch.  But you also know men like Oliver and Sebastian.  And even though it hurts so much to read and experience all that reality, at the end you are gifted a triumph, and it gives you the strength to keep putting your back into it, to keep living your life. (<3)

8.  The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz – By the time I reached the end of The Mistress, I was crying a little, laughing a lot, pumping my fist in the air, feeling intellectually alive and overwhelmed by joy.  And I felt rather like I did after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, like this story that had always existed behind a veil had been revealed, and I’d had the good fortune to witness that unveiling.   (*)

9.  Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl – This book is funny, but it isn’t lighthearted.  It’s like that moment when the seas of life have buffeted you about so much that you end up getting a mouthful of sea water, and you try to spit it out with some dignity, but it just comes out as warm, extra salty drool, and suddenly it’s fucking hilarious that — on top of everything else — you’ve just drooled, so instead of worrying about drowning, you just laugh.  Anyway, it’s kind of a coming of age story for people who waited until their thirties to figure themselves out, but it doesn’t have any of that angst because it just doesn’t have time for bullshit. (*)

10.  To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer – This one made the list because it is probably the most romantic story I read all year.  I mean, come on: Eden and Levi fall in love writing letters to each other about Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  It was a foregone conclusion that I would love this story, that it would stick with me all year. (<3)

 The Worst

Well, there are the obvious contenders for worst books read all year.  there’s even an obvious winner.  But there were also a slew of books that just disappointed me (or made me disappointed in myself).  Chief among these is:

Most disappointing book of 2013: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens (<3 :~(…).  I cannot believe that I bought this, my 31st Laurens book.  I am deeply disappointed in myself.  On the other hand, it seems to have finally helped me break the cycle of addiction.  The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the next book in the series, has been out for six months, and I’ve had absolutely no desire to purchase it.

So there you have it.  Many of these books were published in 2013 but not all of them.  Some of these books were received as e-ARCs from publishers (marked with *) and some were purchased by me (marked with <3).

What are the best and worst books you read this year?

 

Review – So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

I got home yesterday from an epic trip to Las Vegas with some other book bloggers.  After three days of fascinating conversation, champagne, and the weirdest hotel room bathroom I’ve ever seen, it feels rather strange to be home (but good, of course).  I learned many things this weekend, including:

  1. Some women really will wear skirts so short that they can neither sit nor walk nor dance nor bend in any way without utterly exposing their ass cheeks and lady parts.  Further, they might even think they look sexy while perched awkwardly on freaky heels, adjusting their skirts every few seconds.  What is interesting to me is that I simultaneously felt a fun mix of disdain and pity for these women and a hearty, self-inflicted dose of sartorial inadequacy.
  2. 2013-10-12 14.29.32These shoes exist; they aren’t as high priced as I would have expected; and (thank God) they don’t come in my size.
  3. I really do need to read Gone with the Wind and quick.
  4. It is an amazing, sharpening experience to talk about books with women who write about books.
  5. It is past time for me to catch up on my review backlog.

Without further ado, then…

Cover image, So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Tough to tame, but not too tough to love… Charlie Allington is supposed to be on the fast track to the top — a small-town girl who was making it big in her career. Instead, she’s reeling from a scandal that’s pretty much burned all her bridges. Now, out of options, she needs a place to lick her wounds and figure out her future. True, working at a ski resort in rugged Jackson Hole, Wyoming, isn’t her dream job. But if there’s one perk to coming back, it’s a certain sexy hometown boy who knows how to make a girl feel welcome.

Cowboy Walker Pearce never expected a grown-up Charlie to be temptation in tight jeans. She’s smart and successful — way out of league for a man like him. But he’s not about to let that, or his secrets, get in the way of their blazing-hot attraction. Yet when passion turns to something more, will the truth — about both of them — send her out of his life for good…or into his arms forever?

I read So Tough to Tame two months ago, enjoyed it, and fully expected to have a review up in a much more timely manner, but I had a hard time writing about it, and I’m still not completely sure why.

Dahl’s writing is fun and sharp and quick (and velvety), and I enjoy the hell out of her books.  Part of what I love so much is that she’s writing these edgy, contemporary romances in an unlikely setting.  Who would expect a book that dips its toe in hookup culture to be set in Jackson Hole with a cowboy hero?  I love it!  When I pick up Dahl’s books, I keep expecting — based on the setting and my limited experience of Rocky Mountain geography and culture — an All American Romance complete with a rugged cowboy hero who has no use for love, a down-on-her-luck heroine who makes a fine cup of coffee and somehow finds herself stranded on his ranch, and, eventually, a baby.  But Dahl isn’t writing a western romance.  So Tough to Tame is contemporary through and through.

The contemporary voice really comes through with Charlie’s character.  She’s set up as a fairly classic smart/good girl character.  She did well in school, made all the right choices in high school, tutored Walker, and was not overtly sexual in her girlhood, but (as an adult) instead of her possessing the passive attitude toward sexuality that I was culturally trained to expect from a smart/good girl character, one whose sexuality would typically be nurtured into a full flowering (if you’ll pardon the pun) by Walker, Charlie is confident in and aware of her own sexuality from the start.

I can’t decide whether it’s more remarkable that Charlie’s approach to sexual encounters with Walker is so straightforward or that I still find that approach remarkable in this day and age.  I honestly don’t know.  The vast majority of the romance novels that I read feature heroines who discover their sexuality and enjoyment of sex through their encounters with the hero.  (Caveat: that last sentence is not scientific evidence that proves any point, of course. I haven’t read all the books, and it’s possible that my brain is conveniently forgetting all those torrid novels featuring heroines who know what they want — and how to get it — out of sexual encounters.)  I just thought it was an interesting enough point to provoke a tangent.

In most romance novels, when the hero and heroine get down to business, it’s accurate to say they’re in a “sexual relationship.”  Frequently, it is that sexual relationship that furthers the characters’ intimacy and pushes them towards “falling in love.”  The term “sexual relationship” doesn’t really apply to this book, however.  Charlie and Walker enter fairly quickly into a series of sexual encounters, but their relationship is furthered more by their developing friendship than their physical intimacy.  I found that rather interesting and refreshing.

I have (somewhat inadvertently) focused on sex in this review, but there’s a lot more to the book than smokin’ hot love scenes.  So Tough to Tame has sharp humor, a spunky old-lady character, interesting family dynamics, a cleverly-written redemption story line, an interesting dialogue on the shaming of women who embrace their sexuality, and, of course, smokin’ hot love scenes.

And it has Walker.  He’s pretty great, too.

So Tough to Tame was released on September 24, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin HQN.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Victoria Dahl, check out her website or Twitter.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

Every now and then after reading a book, I shake my head in dismay.  Damn, I think to myself, now I have to buy all of this woman’s books.  And it may sound like I’m not happy about it — my husband and bank account certainly aren’t — but those moments are the best, full of all the hope and anticipation a reader like me can feel.  I experienced that moment when I finished the last page of Victoria Dahl’s Too Hot to Handle, and now I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me.

Cover image, Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

This good girl’s going bad….  Merry Kade has always been the good girl. The best friend. The one who patiently waits for the guy to notice her. Well, no more. Merry has just scored her dream job, and it’s time for her life to change. As the new curator of a museum in Wyoming, she’ll supervise a lot of restoration work. Luckily she’s found the perfect contractor for the job.

Shane Harcourt can’t believe that someone wants to turn a beat-up ghost town into a museum attraction. After all, the last thing he needs is the site of his dream ranch turning into a tourist trap. He’ll work on the project, if only to hasten its failure…, until the beautiful, quirky woman in charge starts to change his mind.

For the first time ever, Merry has a gorgeous stud hot on her heels. But can she trust this strong, silent man, even if he is a force of nature in bed? When Shane’s ulterior motives come out, he’ll need to prove to Merry that a love like theirs may be too hot to handle, but it’s impossible to resist.

I fell for Merry first.  She’s funny, wry and a little bit goofy, and the novel’s voice perfectly complemented her charms.

This time, when she stepped back, it only tipped a tiny bit. Like the erection of a man just registering that you’d made a Star Wars joke in the middle of foreplay.

Not that that had ever happened to her.

Further, while Merry obviously carries around her own little bag of insecurities and flaws and while the book is, to a certain extent, about her discovering/accepting herself and her sexuality, her main discovery is that she doesn’t have to become anything to embrace her sexuality; it is as much a part of her as the Star Wars jokes and love of Joss Whedon.  That is my favorite thing about the book — that good-girl Merry with her humor and superhero t-shirts is allowed to be sexy on her own terms and that Shane is given the leeway to find her sexy just as she is, no makeover necessary.

Merry absolutely shines (at least to me), but Shane is also a well-developed character who grapples with his past and his future, his identity and self-concept, and some of the stupid choices he’s made.  I loved Shane, even when I wanted to smack him upside the head, and not just because he appreciated Merry.  (Tangent: I love the off-beat heroine story trope, but sometimes the only thing that makes me love the hero is that he, too, sees what’s so spectacular and awesome about the heroine… I still enjoy those stories because they’re among my favorite kind of story, but it’s an infinitely better reading experience when I can fall in love with both characters in their own right./tangent)

The bottom line is that this book is friggin’ hilarious and had me hooting with laughter at every turn.  (True story – when I’m reading, I never expect to laugh out loud, and when I’m surprised into laughter, it always comes out as this odd, high-pitched hoot.  It’s extra embarrassing.) The secondary characters — of whom my favorite is, unsurprisingly, Rayleen, because I love me some spunky older lady characters — are fantastic and vividly drawn.  I honestly loved every single thing about this book, even though I can’t precisely explain why I have such enthusiasm for it.  Or maybe I can.  The book won me over with this exchange on page 40.

“Oh, my God.” Merry laughed. “You’re the worst liar ever. No, I did not use my super-sexy wiles to lure Shane onto my fold-out sofa bed for a night of uncomfortable passion.”

“I wasn’t worried about you doing the luring!”

“Okay. No, Shane did not butter me up with Star Wars trivia and then ‘accidentally’ fall on me with his penis out.”

So, yeah.  I thought Too Hot to Handle was just plain awesome.  Too Hot to Handle was released on March 26, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market by Harlequin HQN.  If you’re interested in the book, please click on the cover image above the visit the book’s page on Goodreads (or just Google it, like God intended).  For more information about Victoria Dahl, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin HQN via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Recommended for you: “The Damsel, the Duke and the Debacle”

I have a hard time finding new books to read.  Maybe you do too.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve used your Amazon account to purchase weird things: wiffle balls, magnetic puzzles, children’s toys, cat calendars, etc., and now Amazon has no idea what to make of your taste.  My Amazon recommendation list looks like this: an obscure french novel, another obscure french novel, yet another version of one of Sophocles’ plays that I already own in the Loeb Classical Library edition and have no interest in replacing, a Florence & the Machine album, a Deathcab for Cutie album, another obscure french novel, a romance novel that has something to do with a Duke (‘Dealing with the Duke’ or ‘The Dastardly Duke’ or ‘Touch Not the Duke’ or some other such nonsense… I don’t get Amazon’s Duke fetish, but whatever), more wiffle balls–because it’s not enough that I already bought 100… obviously I need more–gift tissue in ugly colors, etc….  So I don’t use Amazon to find new books to read.

I have a Nook, so I often shop for books through Barnes and Noble.  Unfortunately, my recent purchases seem to have convinced Barnes and Noble that I have a thing for bad writing and/or characters with serious psychological issues.  I suppose I must, but I hate having to admit that fact to myself.

Here’s a recap of my more messed-up reading over the past 6 weeks, some of these I’ve already discussed in other posts:

In One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl, Lancaster, the main male character, was seriously abused in his late teens, and Cynthia, the main female character, was pretty much raped… you get those two together, and you’ve got a whole lot of issues and baggage.  In To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt, both the male and female main characters are carting around a hefty amount of emotional baggage.  In To Beguile a Beast, also by Elizabeth Hoyt, it’s the male main character who’s got the issues, having been tortured during a past event.  Reynaud from To Desire a Devil has a nasty case of PTSD from being held captive and repeatedly tortured for a period of seven years.  Frankly, Ian from The Duke’s Captive  by Adele Ashworth (he’s the Duke, by the way) also suffers from PTSD, and Viola, the female main character, doesn’t fare much better.  Colin from A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare watched his parents die when he was young from a violent carriage accident that he alone survived (that’ll mess you up).  Finally, Nicholas from Love’s Magic by Traci Hall was captured, drugged, and sexually abused for over a year before the story starts.

Is an intervention needed?  I mean, I pretty much read romance novels because (1) they are very easy reading, (2) I adore love stories, (3) I have a very hard time expressing my own emotions, but I recognize the need to feel them, and romance novels help me to vicariously lead an emotional life (does that make any sense at all?), and (4) they’re frequently funny, and I like funny.  But my recent crop of romance reading has tended more towards the very serious (Well, not A Week to be Wicked… I snorty-laughed all through that book…), with all these big, weighty emotional problems, and I’m a mite concerned about the idea that I find both entertainment and catharsis in these stories.  Then again, in addition to the 7 books I mentioned above, I’ve read at least 15 others in the past 6 weeks that are the more standard romance fare (or are just straight up terrible, come to think of it).  And, hey, at least I’m not into The Bachelor, right?

Maybe Amazon’s not totally wrong about me…I would totally buy and read “Touch Not the Duke,” if such a book existed.  Just saying.

This week in reading…

I was a little bit light on reading this week.  I spent so much time writing posts and checking out other blogs (and commenting) during Armchair BEA that I didn’t read as much during the day, and I barely read at all this weekend (all that gardening!).  All told, it was a bit of an indifferent week in reading.

Cover image, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer

Yeah, I read it.  I don’t really get the Texas thing, but there are a butt-ton of romance novels dedicated to cowboys and/or folk from Texas.  Don’t get me wrong,Texas is A-OK with me, and I’m certainly not messing with it, I just don’t get all kinds of excited about books set in Texas.  But it was free, and I was curious.  My favorite thing about this book is the little kid, even though she totally has a trailer-park name (Sammie Jo).  The kid is 15 months old at the start of the book, and although it’s tough to track the passage of time across the length of the book, I suspect she’s about 17 months old at the end of the book.

I have a 3-year-old and a 16-month-old, so I was automatically drawn to Sammie Jo, and I really think Hestand nailed her portrayal of the toddler.  Maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed this sort of thing before I had kids, but it really bugs me when authors include kids and then get all the details wrong.  12-month-olds can’t jump.  Seriously.  Babies who are just starting to talk can’t hit final consonants and can’t properly enunciate combination consonants “br,” “sl,” etc.  Hell, my 3-year-old still can’t do any of that stuff (all combination consonants become “f” for some odd reason…).  So I was beyond thrilled to meet Sammie Jo and discover her doing things an actual 15-month-old would do.  I was also charmed by the relationship between Emma, Sammie Jo’s guardian (and the actual main character of the book…), and the little girl.  Actually, I loved everything relating to Sammie Jo in this book.  All of the characters responded to her exactly as you’d expect, from the grandpa-like older man to the ‘gonna-be-very-good-dads-one-day’ brothers of the main male character.

I didn’t like very much else about the book.  The pacing was strange, and the character development left a bit to be desired.  If the book didn’t keep on telling me how attracted the main characters were to one another, I’d never have guessed.  It annoys me when a narrator has to tell me what’s going on rather than my finding out through action or dialogue.  The ending was rushed and awkward and didn’t really tie-up all the loose ends. And, seriously, it ends at a cow birthing…  Maybe that’s totally sexy to people who get the whole Texas thing, but it just irritated me.

Awesome cover image, The Bride and the Brute by Laurel O’Donnell

Just had to show this cover full size…  I love the lightning-struck castle.  My remarks on this book require a preface: it’s a novella, and it was free.  Most of the novellas I’ve read have been terrible.  You get the idea while reading them that the author started out hoping to write a full novel and just didn’t have enough story (or time).  They don’t have to be bad (Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare was pretty great), but they usually are.  This one was pretty bad, but not for the usual reasons.  It was obvious that this book was designed from start to finish to fit within novella length, so what went wrong?  Well…

1.  In a book set in England in 1392, I was a bit surprised to encounter characters named Jayce, Reese, Nicole, Morse, and Dylan.  Jarring, that.
2.  Reese, the male character, is a prize asshole for most of the book, and I just didn’t feel like rooting for him when he finally decided to overcome his own issues and chase down his girl.  And, in a novella, it shouldn’t have felt like “finally,” but it did.
3.  Jayce, the female character, is almost completely flat.  She really only has two character traits: she’s afraid of storms, and she feels strongly about the correct way to break in difficult horses.  I am not kidding.

So why did I keep reading it?  Honestly, when you’re reading a book that’s so short, there’s no reason to DNF the thing, and usually a sick curiosity comes over me.  I want to find out what happens at the end.  The Bride and the Brute rewards you for your patience (ish… it depends on how you define reward), and that was enough to make me glad I finished it.

Cover image, One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl

I finished this book last Monday, and I think I’ve decided that I liked it, but I had to overcome some reservations in order to reach that conclusion.  I do recommend it as an interesting and somewhat edgy romance novel (that’s an unusual word combination right there… when was the last time ‘edgy’ was associated with the romance genre?), but it’s fairly intense and probably wouldn’t suit everyone.  I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy it when romance authors push the envelope with their characters and give them real problems to deal with.  Dahl did that with both of her characters, particularly Lancaster, the male character.  Part of the fun of the book is slowly uncovering all his issues, so I won’t go into any of that.   (I felt like a total voyeur when I was reading this book, but it was very interesting to put together the puzzle of his behavior with the knowledge of what caused it.)  Suffice it to say that both characters are lugging around a metric-ton of baggage, yet the writing doesn’t suffer from all of that emotional weight.  The characters are well-written and their choices and actions make sense given their experiences.

Anyway, the real problem I had with the book was the sex scenes.  I get it: if you have characters who have both suffered sexual trauma of some sort, you’re going to end up with somewhat messed-up sex scenes.  They make perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed reading them.  There’s zero comparison between One Week as Lovers and Fifty Shades of Grey, really, but I am even less inclined to read the latter now that I’ve read the former. If I had such a strong reaction to the relatively mild stuff that happens in One Week as Lovers, there’s no way I’d be able to get through Fifty Shades of Grey.